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Dog Trainers to Avoid

If you’re reading this with the anticipation of hearing specific trainers’ names, sorry to disappoint you. Oh, sure, I could list local and national trainers who are best avoided…but that’s not what this is about. I’d rather share with you some characteristics of professional trainers that should, if you encounter them, raise a red flag:

1. Use of harsh physical corrections. I’ve listed this as number one for a reason. There is no scenario in which a trainer should use harsh physical corrections with your dog, regardless of how they justify it or explain it away. I’ve worked with dogs for roughly thirty years now, many of whom were dogs that would be described by some as “red zone” dogs. These dogs had multiply puncture wounded multiple people; call them what you’d like. My point is that even then, there was no need to apply harsh physical force. In fact, it would have made things worse. Never assume that just because someone is a professional trainer that their use of force is justified. If what they are doing makes you uncomfortable, speak up. You are your dog’s advocate, and you have every right to tell someone you are not okay with what they are doing. Then, cut the training session short. A brief, “Sorry, but this isn’t working for me” is plenty. Then find another trainer.

2. Blah, blah, blah…. I’m a social person. I’m warm and friendly with my clients. But what I don’t do is spend my clients’ paid time telling long stories about my own dogs or my experiences. It’s fine for a trainer to give a brief example of something personal to illustrate a point, or even to tell a short, pertinent story. But to go on and on, or to spend lengthy periods socializing, is not acceptable. Even when clients want to spend time chatting, although I would certainly enjoy shooting the breeze with many of them, I am very careful to get them back on track. You are paying a trainer to help you with your dog, not to regale you with fascinating stories or to be your best friend. As much as you might like the person, stick with a trainer who is professional enough to spend your time wisely.

3. The attitude! Most dog trainers get into the profession because they truly love dogs. Unfortunately, some do not truly love people. I have heard many, many complaints from clients over the years about the attitude they’ve gotten from another trainer. The refrain was often along the lines of, “He made me feel stupid” or, “She talked down to me.” This is never okay. No question is stupid, and no trainer should make you feel that way. Likewise, a trainer should not show frustration at how you work with your dog or your ability to follow their instructions. The sad truth is that sometimes trainers get burned out and end up snapping at clients; others are just snappish to begin with. Again, a trainer does not have to be your BFF, but they should treat you with consideration. Warmth and even a sense of humor help, but at the very least, anything you tell them should be met with an a respectful response rather than a judgmental, snarky tone. Even if you just can’t put your finger on it, if you or anyone in your household does not appreciate the trainer’s attitude…you guessed it, time to move on.

4. The trainer does not work well with your dog. This is different than being harsh in handling or training. Perhaps the trainer simply lacks experience, or maybe they lack specific experience with your dog’s breed, temperament, or the behavior issue itself. It’s not that a trainer must have worked with every breed or issue to be a good, solid trainer, but if your dog is not responding to that person for any reason and issues are not being solved, find someone better suited.

5. Professional conduct. I have heard endless stories about trainers who constantly show up late for appointments, and some who don’t show up at all. One local trainer, according to a client, showed up on the wrong day for a session. We’re all human and things happen, but when the client told them it was the wrong day, the trainer didn’t say a word and instead stormed off, never to return. A trainer changing appointment times often, no-showing, answering calls constantly during appointments…none of those things is okay. When you pay for a professional, professional conduct is what you should get.

If your trainer shows any of the above behaviors or just doesn’t feel right for any reason, keep looking. There are plenty of qualified, ethical, talented, kind professional trainers out there who would love to work with you and your dog. ____________________________________________________________________________

©Nicole Wilde

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